As a coach, teacher, or employer we all attempt to identify talented people, but maybe we should change our focus and seek to identify driven, hard working people. At the end of the day, talent only takes a person so far and the persistent and dedicated often have a way of becoming the high achievers. In a perfect world, we hope to find both talented and hard working people. When this happens, something truly special can come to fruition.
A hot topic at this year’s National Soccer Coaches Convention was the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Although there are several discussion points the book presents, I wanted to share with you a small segment that may alter the way we coach/motivate our young players.
Dr. Carol Dweck, a social psychologist at Stanford who has spent the past thirty years studying motivation, conducted a study of over four hundred New York fifth graders. The findings are quite remarkable.
First, Dweck gave every child a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. Afterward the researcher informed all the children of their scores, adding a single six word sentence of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”), and half were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”).
The kids were tested a second time, but this time they were offered a choice between a harder test and an easier test. Ninety percent of the kids who had been praised for their effort chose the harder test. A majority of kids who’d been praised for their intelligence, on the other hand, chose the easy test. Why? “When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote, “we tell them that’s the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.”
The third level of tests was uniformly harder; none of the kids did well. However, the two groups of kids- the praised for effort group and the praised for intelligence group- responded very differently to the situation. “[The effort group] dug in and grew very involved with the test, trying solutions and testing strategies, “Dweck said. “They later said they liked it. But the group praised for its intelligence hated the harder test. They took it as proof they weren’t smart.”
The experiment then came full circle, returning to a test of the same difficulty as the initial test. The praised for effort group improved their initial score by 30 percent, while the praised for intelligence group’s score declined by 20 percent. All because of six short words. Dweck was so surprised that she reran the study five times. Each time the result was the same.
As coaches, what can we take away from Dwecks’ findings? In both cases the students were praised, so why the discrepancy?
I believe the words we choose to deliver a message hold massive importance! We, coaches, may intend to motivate and encourage by praising a players’ ability, but when we consistently watch successful players at young ages fall off the map as the game becomes more difficult and competitive, we should look inward to the messages we may have given them when they were having success. Did we allow that player to have a false sense of security due to the way we worded our praise? Perhaps, the player grew complacent and didn’t seek challenges that would take his/her game to the next level since it may have meant failing a few (or many) times. Perhaps, if we altered our praise by just a few words we would have helped develop a more resilient player who in-turn grew into the talented older player we had thought we were observing as a young child.
Let’s make an effort to be more thoughtful in the way we praise or correct our players. After all, the difference between just six words can have a massive impact on the future of the young people we are hoping to guide both on the soccer fields and within our community.